I first heard the term “rehoming” from my sister. For a time, she ran a guinea pig foster home of sorts, caring for the little rodents while she looked for permanent homes for them. I liked the positive connotation that goes along with the term “rehoming” – finding a new home. In the field of information technology, rehoming is used to refer to the movement of an item from its current location to a new location, mostly in a virtual environment. In both instances, there is none of the negativity that is often associated with the concept when humans look for a new, permanent home for their baby.
The antiquated term, “put up for adoption”, makes the child sound as if s/he were an object being auctioned off. “Given up for adoption” also implies a sense of resignation on the part of the birth parents, as in “fine, you keep him, I quit.” The more modern, “adoption-friendly” terminology takes us to more neutral ground with “making an adoption plan”, but at the cost of being a mouthful. If in essence the idea behind both is the same, why not use the term “rehoming” to refer to what happens when one family makes the difficult decision to part with their child in order for him or her to have a better future with a new family?
While I would never insinuate that children and pets are on an equal footing, for many childless couples, pets do become like a furry kid towards whom they can direct their parenting energies. Therefore, I think that rehoming a pet can carry with it many of the same emotions that placing a child for adoption with another family does.
My husband and I have two dogs that we rescued from shelters. The first we got to hold us over as we were getting our lives ready for parenthood. The second, we got two years later, in part because we wanted a “sibling” for the first. That was our first obvious “parent-like” move. Once we had both dogs, we began to think of ourselves as “pet parents” more and more, especially as our infertility became apparent, and our adoption attempts fell by the wayside.
Four years have passed, and we are finally expecting our forever child. As we get ready for life with a baby, we are considering how our dogs fit into our life. One of our dogs is particularly prone to separation anxiety, and snaps at us when he is being told to do something he doesn’t want to do (like go into his crate when we’re leaving the house). He has become accustomed to being “the baby” in the home. At this point, we cannot hope to have his behavior change much, at least not with the amount of time that would be required to dedicate to “dog whispering” our way into a better balance of power.
Therefore, we have been considering whether or not rehoming him might not be the best solution. It is not a solution that we are thrilled with. I have thought about what kind of family I’d want him to go to (one with another dog for sure), and I would definitely prefer a family I already know, so that I could continue to visit with him. As I’ve been reflecting on what to do, it occurred to me that if the idea of rehoming a dog can be this gut-wrenching, then I cannot even begin to imagine what a potential birth family must go through when deciding whether or not their daughter or son would be better off in an adoptive family.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to bring myself to part with my trouble-maker dog in the end. But just thinking about it has given me a whole new respect for birth parents, and for the emotional turmoil that they go through when making this decision. I can finally appreciate what so often has seemed like mere nuisances from the perspective of a hopeful adoptive parent: the birth mother’s inability to legally relinquish her parental rights until she has had the opportunity to meet her baby face to face, the revocation period that exist in many states that allows her to change her mind for a certain amount of time afterwards, and the overall trend of birth parents making the decision as to which hopeful adoptive family is the right one for their baby.
While I know that carrying a child for nine months and then parting ways is not the same thing as keeping a pet and then sending them to live elsewhere, there are similarities on some level. And being able to better understand adoption from a different adoption triad member’s point of view is always a good thing.